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Elective surgery targets about numbers not needs

Maryan Street
Health Spokesperson

28 November 2012

Elective surgery targets about numbers not needs

Children are being dropped off treatment lists as district health boards focus on meeting the government’s much-lauded elective surgery “targets”, Labour’s Health spokesperson Maryan Street says.

“Tony Ryall can brag all he likes about the sector meeting its goals, but when the method of achieving those goals is to have hospitals carry out two basic operations rather than one more difficult one, he could at least be honest about it.

“Clinicians and parents have told me of some truly sad cases - such as the little boy whose congenital eye disorder was to be surgically corrected, having his surgery cancelled because two more cataract operations were necessary that afternoon in order to keep the DHB’s numbers on target,” she said.

“In another case, a solo mum couldn’t even get her 4-year-old on to a waiting list for a First Specialist Assessment because the DHB has to keep waiting times low to look good for the Minister of Health. This little girl has an emerging speech defect which might benefit from surgical intervention, yet her mother can’t get confirmation of that because the DHB has said her daughter’s case is not urgent and therefore she will never make it on to a waiting list.

“This kind of environment has been described by clinicians as ‘demoralising’. They are compelled to make decisions for the wrong reasons. Health is always about competing priorities but what we are seeing here are people being asked to make decisions they feel uncomfortable about.

“No wonder waiting times are dropping – the DHBs are not taking people for first assessments, let alone putting them up for a surgical waiting list.

“Numbers of operations are being prioritised over, in these cases, children’s needs. This is one target which is being met at the cost of real need and it should be reviewed,” said Maryan Street.


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